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Water bodies, watersheds and storm water

Lake Jesup

Lake Jesup: In-lake phosphorus reduction review of treatment options

A public workshop was held March 7 and 8, 2017, at the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Maitland Service Center for outside vendors and companies to present a brief overview of treatment technologies in the removal of total phosphorus from Lake Jesup’s water column. Those presentations are available here for review.

Lake Jesup — a large, shallow lake in Seminole County — and its floodplain cover approximately 16,000 acres in central Florida. Lake Jesup, a part of the Middle St. Johns River Basin, was once a thriving water body, attracting thousands of recreational boaters and anglers each year. Over the years, bald eagles, manatees, ibises, wood storks and sandhill cranes have made Lake Jesup their home.

Water quality in Lake Jesup has de­graded over decades due to historic wastewater discharges, nutrient runoff from agricultural and urban develop­ment activities in its watershed and the lake’s relatively low flushing rate. While connected to the St. Johns River, the river does not naturally flow through the lake. The low flushing rate and limited hydrologic exchange with the river results in an extended residence time of nutrients in the lake and results in excessive growth of algae.

Urban storm water from Orange and Seminole counties, and the cities of Orlando, Winter Park, Eatonville, Maitland, Oviedo, Winter Springs and Sanford, along with agricultural runoff from adjacent area farms, contribute to the problem. Even with the removal of all the effluent from sewage treatment plants in 1983, the amount of nutrients flowing into the lake has remained high. The decades of enrichment have led to the accumulation of undesirable, mucky sediments that degrade habitat quality and reduce sport fish populations.

Cypress trees stand along the shore of Lake Jesup.

Cypress trees stand along the shore of Lake Jesup.

Location of Lake Jesup


The St. Johns River Water Management District and many individuals and government entities are involved in helping Lake Jesup, including various federal, state and regional agencies; county and city governments; environmental advocacy groups and homeowner associations. One such group — The Friends of Lake Jesup — was created by the Florida Legislature under the Lake Jesup Act in 1994 to assist the district in evaluating the lake’s needs and possible enhancements. By law, this Act ended in 1998, but many people still actively work toward the lake’s restoration.

Current initiatives include:

  • Investigation of multiple alternative treatment systems to utilize state-of-the-art technologies. One such project, initiated in 2007, involves an innovative approach in which a private company removes nutrients from the lake, with the district paying them by the pound of total phosphorus removed from the lake based on a pre-negotiated price — also known as “pay for performance.”
  • Building partnerships to develop regional stormwater treatment facilities. Through cost-sharing with the district, many local governments have embarked on an aggressive stormwater management program to upgrade existing systems or to implement multi-functional water quality treatment solutions, working to reduce the direct discharge of storm water to the lake.

The Lake Jesup Interagency Restoration Strategy, published in January 2008 and amended in 2011, established clear goals and action steps for the lake’s restoration. The strategy outlines a phased approach and identifies specific restoration milestones to be used to trigger implementation of additional work, as necessary, to ensure that the overall goal of returning Lake Jesup to Class III (fishable and swimmable) standards based on Florida’s water quality criteria. The strategy includes several regional projects to address the improvement of water quality in Lake Jesup, which are currently being undertaken by local governments in the region.

The district also works closely with stakeholders and local governments to meet the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) total maximum daily load (TMDL) nutrient goals and Basin Management Action Plan allocations.

The district has completed multiple projects, including:

  • Purchased floodplain areas in coordination with Seminole County and other agencies to restore water flow to the floodplain. These purchases (beginning in 1984) provide public recreation, maintain animal habitat, improve water quality, and allow for the storage of large volumes of water during rainy periods to offer flood protection for surrounding communities.
  • Increased monitoring, modeling and diagnostic studies to enhance the understanding of the condition of Lake Jesup. The district conducts monthly water quality sampling to monitor water quality and coordinates with Seminole County to monitor lake levels and water quality during storms. Many diagnostic studies have been completed, including mapping the lake bottom and its sediments and evaluating the role of the sediments in the lake.
  • Removed several miles of agricultural berms to reconnect 3,682 acres of floodplain wetlands with the lake. The lake’s floodplain filters particulates from the lake and helps absorb the lake’s nutrient pollution. The berm removal also increases the lake’s ability to store floodwater and provides valuable habitat for plants and animals dependent on a wetland environment.


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St. Johns River Water Management District
4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177
(800) 725-5922